Sunday, September 16, 2007

Damaged Goods

Often scrapbookers tell me they are worried that they've journaled "too much." I'm not exactly sure how you can journal "too much." I think we often have important stories to tell, and we should give ourselves the space necessary. One of the most valuable stories we can share with our children are our life lessons. The following is a life lesson I hope I never forget!
The dust mites danced in the ray of sunshine that provided the only light in the rabbi’s office. He rocked back in his office chair and sighed as he stroked his beard. Then he took his wire-rimmed glasses and polished them absent-mindedly on his flannel shirt.

“So,” he said, “you were divorced. Now you want to marry this good Jewish boy. What’s the problem?”He nestled his grizzled chin in his hand and smiled softly at me.

I wanted to shriek. What’s the problem? First of all, I’m Christian. Second, I’m older than he is. Third - and not least, by any means - I’m divorced! Instead, I looked back into his soft brown eyes and tried to form the words.

“Don’t you think,” I stuttered, “that being divorced is like being used? Like being damaged goods?”

He settled back in the office chair and stretched so that he was looking at the ceiling. He stroked the scraggly beard that covered his chin and his neck. Then, he returned to his spot behind the desk and leaned toward me.“Say you have to have surgery. Say you have a choice between two doctors. Who are you going to choose? The one right out of medical school or the one with experience?”

“The one with experience,” I said.

His face crinkled into a grin. “I would, too,” he locked his eyes with mine. “So in this marriage, you will be the one with experience. That’s not such a bad thing, you know.“Often, marriages tend to drift. They get caught in dangerous currents. They get off course and head toward hidden sandbars. No one notices until it is too late. On your face, I see the pain of a marriage gone bad. You will notice the drift in this marriage. You’ll call out when you see the rocks. You’ll yell to watch out and pay attention. You’ll be the person with experience,” he sighed. “And believe me, that’s not such a bad thing. Not bad at all.”

He walked to the window and peeked between the slats of the blinds. “You see, no one here knows about my first wife. I don’t hide it, but I don’t make a big deal about it. She died early in our marriage before I moved here. Now, late at night I think of all the words I never said. I think of all the chances I let pass by in that first marriage, and I believe I’m a better husband to my wife today because of the woman I lost.”

For the first time, the sadness in his eyes had meaning. Now I understood why I chose to come talk to this man about marriage instead of taking an easier route and getting married outside both our religions. The word “rabbi” means teacher. Somehow I sensed he could teach me, or even lend me, the courage I needed in order to try again, to marry again and to love again.

“I will marry you and your David,” said the rabbi. “If you promise me that you will be the person who yells out when you see the marriage is in danger.”

I promised him I would, and I rose to leave.

"By the way,” he called to me as I hesitated in his doorway, “did anyone ever tell you that Joanna is a good Hebrew name?”

Sixteen years have passed since the rabbi married David and me on a rainy October morning. And, yes, I have called out several times when I sensed we were in danger. I would tell the rabbi how well his analogy has served me, but I cannot. He died two years after our wedding. But I will always be grateful for the priceless gift he gave me: the wisdom to know that all of our experiences in life make us not less valuable, but more valuable, not less able to love, but more able to love.

**Reprinted by permission of Joanna Slan (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark & Chrissy Donnelly and Barbara De Angelis, Ph.D. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

** Note: I've been told the PAX Network made this into a television show, but I've never seen it. They changed David's name to Dennis! Also, it's now been 24 years of marriage, but who's counting?


Anonymous said...

Once again, you've moved me to tears, Joanna! I,too, was married before - before the 31 years I've spent with this man. You were blessed to meet that rabbi! Thanks for sharing- and HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!


Deb Baker said...

What a poignant story. Thanks for sharing.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I know, wasn't that rabbi fantastic? People often ask me if I converted. Well, the rabbi said he would NOT marry us if I did. His theory was that I might someday look back and feel that my decision was predicated on pressure, not belief. I really, really appreciated that man. He was in every sense, a teacher.

Camille Minichino said...

What an extraordinary man. It makes one realize how religious leaders are SUPPOSED to be ... wise, loving, tolerant of others' beliefs ...

And the photo is wonderful too.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I've been very impressed with most of the Reform rabbis (rabbi's? I hate the problems we have making some nouns plural!) I've met. They value questioning. They pray that they will be saved from xenophobia. They have a long history of questioning as a road to faith.

And one rabbi's daughter told me that their tradition includes great respect for all animals, all God's creatures.

You know, I truly think we become wise by asking questions and seeking answers, not by being told the answers, but by struggling within ourselves to find them.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Wonderful story, Joanna! Truly heart-warming. Best, Kathryn